Coun. Erwin Wiens says he has received the following message from FARMS, which contradicts an email received earlier this evening from the Minister of Agriculture Ernie Harderman and federal ministers saying the restriction for seasonal farmworkers has been lifted. Will have to wait to see it will be confirmed tomorrow, says Wiens.
“It is important to clarify the overwhelming media attention and announcements today made by some Ministers in relation to temporary foreign workers entering Canada. Note, they are not valid. The specific misinterpretation came from the reference to the Canada and U.S. border closures allowing cross- border temporary foreign workers to continue to enter each country. As an example an individual living in Ontario and working in the U.S. and vice versa, may be referred to as a temporary foreign worker.
If your commodity organization circulated this misinformation please go back to that source for clarification. The offices of F.A.R.M.S. and CanAg Travel Services must wait for an official notice from Ottawa before securing any flights.
Message from Minister of Agriculture Ernie Hardeman:
“The health and well-being of the people of Ontario is our government’s number one priority, including working to maintain Ontario’s food supply system. Since we first learned of COVID-19, Ontario has been taking decisive action to help contain the virus and protect all Ontarians.
Today’s announcement by the federal government that temporary foreign workers will be exempt from travel restrictions is great news for our agriculture sector. Minister Blair has confirmed that temporary foreign workers will be allowed to enter Canada but will need to observe a 14-day period of self isolation. Further details will be coming from the federal government shortly.“
It was good news for local growers, and the farm workers who depend on their seasonal employment for income to look after their families, said grower and Coun. Erwin Wiens.
As of Tuesday morning, word in the farming community was that the 28,000 seasonal farmworkers expected to arrive in Ontario in the next couple of weeks would not be allowed into the country.
The announcement came from FARMS (Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services) which was keeping tabs on federal announcements, and emailed Ontario growers Monday evening, saying that no seasonal workers (no non-nationals at all) would arrive in Canada after March 18.
There were workers expecting to fly out of their home countries Tuesday, with a cut-off time for arrivals at midnight, but then growers learned they were not coming after all, said Wiens.
“This is a catastrophe. It’s a disaster,” says Wiens Tuesday, reacting to the news. Up until Wednesday evening, there seemed no hope, although he knew there were FARMS was working on having the decision reversed, but an email received Wednesday evening from Hardeman said farmworkers would be allowed to come after all.
In the email, Hardeman said, “I want to thank Premier Ford who has been on the phone with the Deputy Prime Minister numerous times and helped convince the federal government of the need for this exemption. I also want to thank Prime Minister Trudeau and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Minister Bibeau for their support of our critical agri-food sector during this difficult time.”
Locally, Lord Mayor Betty Disero was talking to provincial ministers, and growers were meeting Bill George, chair of the Ontario Tender Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, and others — phone calls and emails were going back and forth furiously in an effort to have the decision reversed.
“it seemed like it was just an oversight. With all the decisions to be made over the last few days, it’s not surprising. Once it was brought to their attention, everyone recognized the right thing to do,” said Wiens. “Betty was speaking to provincial ministers this afternoon (Wednesday). And the Premier went to bat for us and was speaking to the deputy prime minister. Right up the chain everyone said the same thing. It was an oversight. They realized out important our food chain is and they fixed it. I’m just happy it got done quickly.”
“This is our food chain we’re talking about. It’s not just a matter getting together and helping each other out. We need labour, and there is no labour,” said Wiens Tuesday, when it didn’t look like the men would arrive.
The email said FARMS “is devastated by this news,” and “is working with other industry partners to do everything possible to try and change the minds of those behind this decision.”
Although flights were being allowed from some areas, including the Caribbean, Tuesday’s announcement had said the borders were closed to those who are not Canadian nationals.
Wiens is hoping and expecting his group of Jamaican workers will arrive next week, as expected, but even if there is some delay, he expects they will “hit the ground running,” as seasonal farm workers do, he says. “It’s not like they sit around waiting to work.”
He’s called them to let them know to be ready, in case they don’t get a lot of notice.
Once they are here, they are supposed to self-isolate, but he believes they will be able to work — they just won’t be able to leave the farms.
They live in rural areas of Jamaica, Wiens said, so they should be healthy when they get here.
He was certainly not the only one with concerns — many farmers require much more help than he does.
Across the province and across the country, 28,000 workers in Ontario are expected to arrive, most of them in the next few weeks.
“These workers come to help farmers with work that needs to get done now, not a few weeks from now. You can’t stop mother nature. There is a very short window to get done what needs to be done, for both tender fruit and grapes,” says Wiens. “You can’t make that time up.”
As they arrive in Niagara-on-the-Lake, they will be pruning and tying in vineyards, and pruning and thinning in tender fruit orchards — jobs that can’t wait.
Some seasonal workers are already in town, working on some of the larger farms, but the “vast majority will be arriving in the next couple of weeks,” says Wiens, adding Wednesday evening that hopefully, if there are delays, it will just be by a couple of days — the logistics of the flights were still to be worked out.
His main concern is just getting them here — all else, such as getting them food, will be worked out when they arrive.
And as grateful as he is to know they are on their way, it’s good noes for them, that they will have the income they rely on to feed their families, said Wiens.